Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  05/15/2014
Date Climbed:   05/15/2014
Author:  DanielL
 Mt. Bierstadt: A Wintery Summit Ski   

Peak: Mount Bierstadt
Ski Difficulty: D3 R1 II
Distance: 9.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,800'
Snow Conditions: Powder!

After a big storm in the San Juan Mountains forced my sister and I to delay a ski trip planned for early this week, we realized that this might be the best time to get a ski of Bierstadt before the typical winds took all the nice, fresh powder away, as they so often do on this mountain. So, despite a somewhat dramatic forecast for today (Thursday) predicting high winds, snowfall and poor visibility, we figured we'd go for it anyways just in case. First discovery - the winter closure gate was still closed, despite the recent plowing of the road up to the top of Guanella Pass. However, we found that a thin layer of fresh powder on the road should still allow us to ski all the way back to our car. With that encouraging thought in mind, accompanied by steadily improving skies and visibility, we walked briskly up the road in good spirits.

Up the road with Bierstadt behind

Upon arriving at the trailhead, we observed with some amusement that the outhouses were completely filled with snow. Guess no one will be using those for a while!

Interesting outhouse situation at the trailhead

Now for ski time! We donned the skis and cruised down awesome, fresh powder to Scott Gomer Creek. Still enjoying powder and surprisingly calm conditions, we skinned up to the first headwall and searched around a bit to find the best line to the top.

Skinning above Scott Gomer Creek

Start of the headwall

It seems we see ptarmigans just about every climb during the cold season! These two noisily caught our attention and then scurried away, uninterested in these noisy intruders.


We topped out on the headwall and got a good look at Bierstadt's upper slopes. Hmm...coverage looks interesting. I've gathered that this is not known as a good skiing peak, to which many of you can attest. In fact, Bierstadt's challenge seems not to be winter, nor the Sawtooth, but simply getting enough coverage for a ski!

Is it in?

Looks like an interesting storm coming our way!

Despite our concerns about coverage near the top, we were very pleased to find that there was still lots of fresh powder, even on the upper portion of the climb. At least the wind left plenty of the good stuff for us to enjoy!

Skinning through the fresh powder

The towering and impressive Sawtooth

Looking a bit thin - can we make it?

As we approached the summit, things started getting interesting. The forecasted high winds started kicking in full force, and visibility started to deteriorate once again. The snow steadily decreased in quantity until we were weaving in and out of rocks, falling into rocks through fresh powder, and finally discussing whether or not it was worth leaving the skis on for the final summit push.

Quite spotty, it seems

However, we somehow managed to find enough snow to skin until we reached the top of the ridge below Bierstadt's summit. Ah, corniced ridges through windblown snow. Oh yes, now it's getting good!

The final ridge

Once again, the visibility took another plunge. Not being able to see the edge of the cornice most of the time was a bit disconcerting, and I kept a pole off to the right to feel where the edge was. I have developed quite a respect for cornices after falling off a few this winter and reading stories of avalanche accidents from breaking cornices. However, the ridge was not long and we soon reached the powdery summit.

Socked in on Bierstadt's summit

After attempting in vain to find any cell reception on the summit, we decided it was time to get into better conditions. So down we went.

Nope, can't see much anymore

After an interesting attempt to ski through the rocks below the ridge (I'm still laughing at myself for some of those moments), we reached the better snow and cruised through the deep powder down the rest of the mountain. Being my first year of skiing in backcountry and really, re-learning to ski since I'd stopped several years ago, I'm not really a good skier and get surprised and thrown around quite a bit. But I can still have fun!

Better snow is always welcome


Ahh, powder!

Yours truly trying to figure out this whole skiing thing

Soon, we were back at Scott Gomer Creek and back on went the skins for the final push to the trailhead. Little did I know what awaited me...

Skins back on, this will be no problem!

We were cruising back up the snow to the trailhead when I started feeling this strong tugging on my skis. Uh-oh, I thought. That can only mean...Glop!

Not good...

(Fiction alert) I had heard of glop and it's powerful depressing effect on skiers, but little did I know that it was only a sign of something worse...the invisible, inaudible, all-terrible Glop Monster!

As I lifted my right ski to examine this unwelcome substance, I was suddenly thrown to the ground by none other than the Glop Monster! We struggled for at least five minutes, me trying to get back on my feet, and the Glop Monster, whose goal is to hamper and prevent unwary skiers, hindering my every move. Finally, I twisted myself into a new position and flung myself upward into the Glop Monster, regaining my balance and shaking my fist in defiance! I took off again, trying to catch up to my partner who was long ahead. However, now matter how I kicked and flung my skis, the glop hung on tenaciously and continued to hamper my every move.

Ok, in other words, I found glop on my skis, tried to catch a glimpse, and fell over. Now, many of you skiers know how hard it can be to get up after falling into a bunch of soft spring snow while skinning uphill. Well...I had quite a time getting out of that mess, and my sister would have been quite amused to turn around and watch me struggle to get back on my feet. Now I know, I need to start carrying Glop-Stopper, which stops any glop that could stop you!

Bierstadt from the pass

Back at the trailhead, we discovered to our great disgruntlement that the plows and the sunshine had cleared away the thin layer of fresh powder we had planned to ski. I find it ironic to have to walk down a completely clear, paved road, especially in ski boots.

Walking down a completely clear, paved road in ski boots

In all honesty, however, it was a great day and we were both very happy to get a ski of Bierstadt in deep powder conditions. This was also a milestone for me...14er summit #100! Thanks for reading.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

The Dark Side
05/16/2014 00:46
Welcome back to the dark side (BC skiing) >

I'm pretty new to BC myself. Used glop stopper last weekend and found it almost completely worthless (despite rubbing it in so hard I almost ripped the fibers off my skins). I think the skins were already wet from melting snow and the wax didn't adhere well. It worked for all of a few minutes. Had to boot my way up a hill after I collected 10 lbs of snow of each ski. I'm probably gonna look into some pre-treatment stuff.


05/16/2014 15:58
Great trip: low key trips like this are exactly what I hope to have this spring. I was up on Square Top 2 weeks ago but was turned around by the wind.

Doug Shaw
05/16/2014 18:06
”I kept a pole off to the right to feel where the edge was. I have developed quite a respect for cornices after falling off a few this winter”

A ski pole doesn't give you that much extension in the grand scheme of things, maybe 6 or 7 feet out from your boots. 6 or 7 feet is really not that large for a cornice, which means if you are close enough to the edge that you can feel the drop off with your ski pole, you're standing out on it already. In other words, this approach doesn't keep you out of harm's way, it just tells you when you're in it.

You might find it eye-opening to read this report, where the author had a cornice collapse under her when she was 20 feet back from the edge.


05/16/2014 18:25
I've read SarahT's trip report about that experience multiple times - even now, I think of that whenever I'm around a cornice. However, I just read that part, 20 feet! I didn't remember that. On our climb, I was more concerned about falling off than breaking the cornice, but I've never actually seen one go before so I don't have that personal perspective. Thanks for the heads up, I'll keep that in mind.

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